Four men accused of plotting a major attack in Germany on the orders of al-Qaeda militants went on trial Wednesday facing charges of belonging to a foreign terrorist organization.
Authorities say the so-called Duesseldorf cell, named for the western German city where some of the accused lived, aimed to plant a home-made bomb against a target they had not yet determined.
“They planned to carry out a spectacular and startling attack,” federal prosecutor Michael Bruns told the higher regional court. “The defendants wanted to spread fear and horror.”
They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Authorities believe Moroccan national Abdeladim el-Kebir, 31, served as the ringleader and received orders from an unidentified senior Al-Qaeda operative while attending a weapons training camp on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Also in the dock are German-Moroccan national Jamil Seddiki, 32; German-Iranian Amid Chaabi, 21; and German citizen Halil Simsek, 28.
Police arrested three of the four men in April last year and the fourth in December after months of surveillance following el-Kebir’s return from the militant training camp.
They said the group had been experimenting with various chemicals to build their own bomb.
El-Kebir had been a student in the nearby city of Bochum. German police started monitoring his movements in early 2010 following a tip-off from U.S. authorities.
German police say el-Kebir had begun researching security measures at public buildings, airports and railway stations and working on plans for a bomb attack from late 2010.
At the start of the hearing, defense attorneys called for a suspension of the trial saying that they had not received access to documents from the surveillance operation that were key to the prosecution’s case.
Bruns dismissed the accusation and asked the court to throw out the motion.
The trial is scheduled to last until late November.
Last November, a court in New York indicted el-Kebir on charges of conspiring to provide Al-Qaeda with explosives and training. He would face life in prison there if convicted.
The northern German city of Hamburg served as a base for a Qaeda cell that helped plan and carry out the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.
Germany opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq but has about 5,000 troops in Afghanistan under NATO command, which authorities believe make it a potential target for Islamic extremists.
In February, a German court sentenced a Kosovo man to life in prison for killing two U.S. soldiers and attempting to kill three more at Frankfurt airport last year in Germany’s first deadly jihadist attack.